Sixteen years on the run. In the end Mladic came quietly

Vesna Peric Zimonjic on the manhunt that led to a quiet rural village

So after all, he didn't go down fighting. When the knock finally came on his door, 16 years after an arrest warrant was issued, the man who boasted that a court in The Hague would never see him alive went quietly, without fuss and in handcuffs.

Click HERE to view graphic (69k jpg)

Ratko Mladic was finally picked up by Serbian security forces at 5.30am yesterday in the village of Lazarevo in rural northern Serbia. He was staying in a yellow-brick house with agricultural equipment in the back garden that belonged to his cousin, Branko Mladic.

Neighbours never saw him around. When he finally emerged, he was pale from a lack of sunlight and looking older than his 69 years, according to Rasim Ljajic, a Serbian minister working with the war crimes tribunal. One arm was paralysed, according to Serbia's B-92 radio. DNA tests proved it was him – even if his papers said that he was Milorad Komadic. "It was over quickly," said one man, named Djordje. "We often joked that he must be here, because his relative lives in the village." Another said that he lived "like a poor man".

The house had been under surveillance for a couple of months, according to unconfirmed reports. Mladic's wife Bosiljka – who had tried to declare him dead last year – and his son said that they were "shocked and surprised" at the news that ended years of searching, false sightings and obstruction by the Serbian authorities. They had claimed they did not know where he had been hiding.

However, in the early days when he was "wanted", he had retired to a life of enforced rustic domesticity in a pine wood in Han Pijesak, eastern Bosnia, with his wife and watched over by loyal followers. He kept bees and a small flock of goats which he named after some of the Western leaders who had been his nemeses, including Madeleine Albright.

While former strongman Slobodan Milosevic was in power, he attended football matches and did not hide much despite the indictment against him. There were sightings at the Belgrade racecourse and in a busy restaurant. His photo adorned calendars sold on Belgrade street corners and hung in Serbian bars, while "Wanted" posters were conspicuous by their absence.

But when Milosevic was ousted in 2000, the will to catch Mladic changed, and he has not been seen openly in public for a decade. It is believed that hard-core nationalists who remained in the Serbian army and police after the downfall of Milosevic remained loyal to Mladic and spared no effort to hide him.

It was also widely believed that those remnants were responsible for leaks in the investigations about Mladic's whereabouts. Serbian chief war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic said last year that "Mladic slipped from our hands" back in 2005. "We almost had him," he said, adding that leaks and sabotage by the people whose task it was to arrest Mladic led to many similar failures.

After a landlord came forward saying he had once rented an apartment to the general in the capital, Serbia made the embarrassing admission that Mladic had indeed been hiding there as late as 2006, when, it said, he vanished without trace. But as the European Union and Nato piled pressure on Serbia's reformist government to arrest them, the long list of those at large began to shorten until the elusive Mladic became the prime remaining obstacle to Serbia's EU membership hopes.

The real turning point came in 2008 with the sudden arrest of Radovan Karadzic, barely recognisable with a beard and long hair, posing as a new-age guru. He had been living quietly in Belgrade under a false name. The pace of the hunt was stepped up.

There were numerous raids. In November 2008, a private factory and the home of its owner were searched in the central town of Valjevo. In 2009, international police raided the homes of Mladic's sister and sister-in-law in the eastern, Serbian-controlled part of Sarajevo.

Still a year ago, his family tried to demand that he be declared officially dead. That move failed. And yesterday he was found, very much alive.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions
Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions